The Stones of Venice
Written by Paul Magrs
Released March 2001
The opening ‘season’ of Paul McGann’s Eight Doctor is a mixed affair. The first two adventures are quite good and rapidly establish the romantic and passionate character of the ‘George Lazenby’ of Doctor Who. Storm Warning was a rather traditional story combining the historic with fantastic while the second story re-introduced the Cybermen in a tension-filled story set in deep space. His third outing is an entirely different affair set in the doomed city of Venice on the eve of its destruction. The fourth installment ‘Minuet in Hell’ is where things really fall apart… but I’m saving that for later.
A rather flighty Doctor tries to convince his companion Charlie to enjoy the randomness of their travels, citing that he is determined to turn over a new leaf in his regenerated form. Finding themselves in the beautiful sinking city of Venice, the pair are met by an overly dramatic lady, Miss Lavish, wandering the streets as revelers drunkenly raise a glass to the demise of a once classical monument to romance and beauty. The mysterious Miss Lavish acts as an absurd source of back-story, imbuing the Doctor and Charlie with dread and urgency that only sets the Doctor’s sense of adventure on end.
The Stones of Venice is a strange mixture of Gothic adventure and comedy, much like an adventure from the classic series, ala Graham Williams. It provides McGann ample opportunity to show his acting chops as he dances the role of flippant hero and madcap wanderer, hearkening back to the best days of Tom Baker’s middle era. Forcing himself on the local curator of the Royal Collection, Churchwell, the Doctor is both charming and disarming, both impressing upon the stranger his mysterious knowledge while admitting to being unable to fool anyone at all. Yet as the Doctor learns the dangerous setting that he has landed within, what with the cult of the former Queen Estella searching the streets at night clad in robes and armed with knives, he realizes too late that he has left Charlie in the lap of peril.
The gondolier Pietro is at first quite friendly and eager to answer Charlie’s questions about life in Venice, but soon it becomes apparent that he has a secret plot and Charlie plays a vital role. After drugging Charlie and dressing her up as the missing Estella, lost for a hundred years, Pietro presents her to the Duke Orsino. Between the dreaded cult of Estella and the gondoliers seeking to make a coup against the ruling class, the Doctor and Charlie are in the middle of it. Unfortunately, after all of the parts of the story are established and the atmosphere reduced to canned music and the background chatter of the revelers, The Stones of Venice falls sadly flat. The frenzied cries of anxiety as the gondoliers assault the last remaining plots of dry land are rather silly. I mean, is the ‘monster of the week’ really mermen gondoliers?
I still greatly enjoy and recommend this adventure as it is uniquely witty and charming. It all falls apart 3/4 of the way through, but up until then it is a wonderful love letter to the classic days of Doctor Who complete with over the top villains, weird aliens masquerading as humans and some of the finest quips this side of City of Death.